Friday, October 30, 2009

Produce Safety Project and S.T.O.P. Release Report on State Surveillance of Foodborne Illnesses

There is a large burden of foodborne illness in the United States with approximately 76 million people falling ill every year (that’s 1in 4 Americans) from largely preventable food contamination.  Fixing the problem is dependent on knowing where the problem starts and which foods from what producers are making us sick.  Ultimately, then, the ability to control food poisoning starts with the public health department and their ability to find out what a person ate when they have a diagnosed case of foodborne disease. 

Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.) has been supporting victims of foodborne illness for the last 16 years and has heard firsthand how terribly inconsistent we are at interviewing and collecting this vital information when people get sick from food.  The public health system can not find what it isn’t looking for or asking about.  Today, a survey is being released that will shed some light on this important topic. 

The survey was commissioned by the Produce Safety Project (PSP), an initiative of the The Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University, and conducted by S.T.O.P.  39 of the 51 state and DC health departments responded to our survey which asked about the types of questions asked of foodborne illness victims, the time frame in which they were completed, and how states collected, stored, and shared the resulting 2007 data. 

We learned some interesting things.  Despite the increase in large national outbreaks linked to fresh produce recently, our data show that only 25 of 39 states asked victims about specific produce items, even if that produce was associated with a large recent outbreak.  Only 23 of 39 states are able to electronically link their foodborne illness intake data for analysis.  The lessons learned from this survey data will hopefully encourage states to develop best practices, leading to better identification of outbreaks and fewer illnesses and deaths. 

To read the executive summary and full report, visit
To sign up for S.T.O.P. E-alerts and get food recall and outbreak information delivered to your email inbox, visit

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